Cautious Congressional Response to Trump’s ‘Fire and Fury’ With North Korea

McCain says he doesn’t always listen to Trump’s words

President Donald Trump speaks at a meeting with administration officials, including Kellyanne Conway and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, on the opioid addiction crisis at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., on Tuesday. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump’s warning of “fire and fury” in response to additional provocations by North Korea is not being received lightly by senior lawmakers.

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Trump said Tuesday at his golf club in Bedminster Township, N.J., according to the White House pool covering Trump. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal statement, and as I said they will be met with fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.”

Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain thought the language might be ill-advised, particularly since carrying out a strike on North Korea could lead to significant destruction in South Korea.

The Arizona Republican signaled he would prefer the “speak softly and carry a big stick” of President Theodore Roosevelt.

“I take exception to the president’s comments because you’ve gotta be sure you can do what you say you can do,” McCain said on KTAR radio.

“I don’t think that some of the great leaders that I have admired would have taken that same path,” McCain said. “I don’t know how you deal with North Korea. That’s the problem with what he had to say. If we meet with fire and fury, they still can launch those rockets from across the [Demilitarized Zone] and strike Seoul, and I’m telling you that the catastrophe of that would be incalculable.”

McCain said in the radio interview that the Trump administration should immediately engage with China following the reports that the North Korean military now has a miniaturized nuclear device that can fit atop an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said that efforts to isolate Pyongyang have not worked, and she called for direct talks with the regime. 

“The United States must quickly engage North Korea in a high-level dialogue without any preconditions. Hopefully, Secretary [of State Rex Tillerson] is already discussing the possibility of reopening talks with our Asian partners during his current trip. In my view, diplomacy is the only sound path forward,” said Feinstein, a former chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Speaking more broadly about Trump’s national security team, including the several members who are retired generals, McCain praised the group but said he was not spending much time focusing on statements made by the  commander-in-chief himself.

“I don’t pay much attention anymore to what the president says because there’s no point in it. What I do pay attention to is what he does, and I can tell you that he has surrounded himself with an outstanding national security team,” McCain said. “Gen. Kelly, Gen. Mattis, Gen. McMaster. These are all really good people, and they’re doing some of the right things which Obama never did for the last eight years, so I am proud of a lot of the national security team he’s got,” he said, referring to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. 

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